Baseball Betting Strategy: Using the Right Stats to Handicap Baseball Games

by | Last updated May 12, 2023 | mlb

Betting Baseball: Betting on Totals (Part 2)

Using the Right Stats to Handicap Baseball Games

by Badger, MLB Handicapper

Since we’ve covered the weather and it’s affects in part one, now let’s take a look at the never-ending and highly debatable discussion about which stats you should use to handicap baseball games when you’re betting totals.

Whether you’re a sabermatrician or just some guy watching baseball and drinking beer, everyone uses some form of statistical data to
enhance their handicapping of baseball. Thats what baseball is all about; stats.

From the archaic (ERA) to the most hard-core advanced stuff (O-swing %-percentage of pitches outside the strike zone a player swings at), there are over 100 different statistical categories to use to handicap a baseball player/pitcher if you so choose. And that’s just the quantifiable stuff, never mind the contract year, nagging
wife at home because of the drinking issue after games side distractions that are impossible to turn into a math equation.

How you decide to tap dance through that statistical mine field is up to you and your personal preference, but here are a few of the variables I
like to use when I’m looking specifically at betting a total for the game. For ease, I’ll break them into four broad categories: pitching,
hitting, ballpark and umpire statistics. Ranking them from what I consider most important to least.

Pitching Stats

Baseball is about history, and it’s because of the history that a majority of the mainstream media still use the earned run average
(ERA) as a relevant stat these days. If you still use a pitchers ERA when deciding whether or not to bet on a total, dont. There are so many better stats at your disposal.

If you still want to keep it somewhat simple (using an ERA is insane as well as simple), look at a pitchers WHIP and HR/9 instead.

Their WHIP, or walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, will let you know if a pitcher is throwing strikes (as close to 1.0 as possible) or if he’s putting runners on base and flirting with disaster (1.5 is about as bad as it gets). While their HR/9 is exactly what it looks like, the number of home runs per 9 innings pitched they allow. Obviously, the lower the number (last year Chris Carpenter led MLB at 0.3)(This article was written in 2013) the less likely that pitcher gives up gopher balls (like Braden Looper at 1.8 in 2009).

If you invest more time looking at the pitcher’s splits, looking in specific areas for glaring differences in things like: home vs. away, day/night games, run support and groundball/flyball ratios (GB/FB) relative to the park they’re pitching in that night. You can find hurlers that have huge run support, or that are absolutely terrible during the day, or that just seem to dominate certain teams (i.e. Astros Roy Oswalt vs. the Reds) if you look in the right places to find those kinds of nuggets. If you can find a fly ball pitcher in a small ballpark, or a groundball guy in a spacious stadium, it’s yet another way to employ baseball betting strategy and gain perspective on a wager.

Hitting Statistics

Beyond the obvious runs per game and team batting average, the amount of hitting statistics you could use to handicap a game in regards to
runs and totals borders on minutia. You could easily go insane and get paralysis by analysis.

It’s also hardly a secret these days which baseball teams have high-scoring lineups. You see all of the home runs and highlights on SportsCenter each night, so just having a solid knowledge base of each team’s lineup and it’s realistic potential is often enough to go by for me.

I used to dig for more, looking at things like batting average with runners in scoring position, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and other more advanced stats, but I stopped putting forth as much effort for one reason: Major league ball players are some of the streakiest athletes in all of sports.

Think about it, how often has your favorite team’s entire lineup gone cold for more than a game or two? In 2023, I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates start off like gangbusters, only to succumb to a 10-game bad streak where they scored about 10 total runs. Or how many times has that same team won a series on getaway day mid-week, only to catch a huge break by not having to face the next opponents ace in the next series because he’s already pitched?

Those types of scenarios are more important in many cases, and knowing which teams are hot and cold is part of following the sport during your daily perusing of the box scores.


BallPark Stats

The third category of statistics I’ll look at when handicapping a baseball game for a total is the ballpark itself. With another new ballpark opening up again this season (2010) (Minnesota Twins Target Field), this is one of the few areas where oddsmakers in Las Vegas are still learning as they go along with you, offering you a great chance to find an overlooked angle every now and then.

Last year everyone who paid attention noticed quickly that new Yankee Stadium was a bandbox, yielding the most homeruns (237) of any field in the league. Bet the over every time, right?

But if you’re a fan of some Park Factors stats, you would also know that new Yankee Stadium gave up nearly the same rate of dingers as Angel Stadium of Anaheim (1.26 to 1.22) and actually finished 20th in run/rate (.965) ranking it in the lower half of the league and almost making it a pitchers park! (Park Factors tries to compare the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.)

Knowing that some parks consistently yield higher runs per game (Baltimore, Colorado, Texas, Boston) is not so much a secret anymore. But finding the right combination of flyball pitcher, in a small ballpark like Fenway, with a predominantly left-field pull lineup of right-handed hitters on a windless night in the high 70s is where you should be trying to take advantage of the oddsmakers error.

Umpire Stats

If baseball handicappers didn’t base a large portion of their advanced analysis on who is calling the balls and strikes, then they wouldnt keep umpire stats now would they? I personally put about as much weight on the umpire as I do the weather. I like to know who is behind the plate, but it’s not necessarily going to make or break my wager on a total.

Guys like Jeff Nelson, Jim Reynolds, Tim Tschida and Tim McClelland are known for having tight strike zones, and are therefore likely to go over (Reynolds 18-11 O/U in 09; Reynolds 18-11; Tschida 18-11; McClelland 20-13) and have higher runs per game averages (all four guys 10 runs or higher) than umps with wider pitcher-friendly zones (like John Hirschbeck, Jeff Kellogg, Phil Cuzzi and Brian Runge).

You can find an advantage every now and then, but you’ll go hungry waiting around to find a pitchers umpire with two aces on the bump that the boys in Vegas haven’t already found before they set the line.

The bottom line is that there is so much data for you to use, how you choose to use it is up to you. Just keep in mind that if stats told the whole truth, every statistician would be rich from breaking the bank in Vegas. The game is still played by humans, which means that you still have to bet like a human and go with your gut more often than not.

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